Last week, the children didn't have school. A friend has loaned us her house in the Berkshires for years. When the kids were young, we made friends with children we met at the park. They let my son fill in on the local baseball team. We bought popsicles at the general store. We spent quiet weekends and holidays hiking segments of the Appalachian trail until we knew where the wild apples grew in the fall and where blackberries could be be gathered in late summer. We visit a local goat farm and get eggs from chickens. For a long time, this was enough.
Something was different last week. Our quiet week was shadowed by ennui. Perhaps it was the weather. It wasn't warm yet and it was too late for snow, though a few patches remained. The trees weren't sprouting their chartreuse buds. We searched for signs of spring on muddy walks and found a few daffodils trying to emerge, but nothing more promising. We saw where beavers had gnawed down trees. And threw rocks in ice-covered ponds, trying to break the frozen seal.
After a few days of mostly baking, reading, and video-game playing, we visited The Berkshires Fish Hatchery. There were clusters of domed tents over cement pools within a chain-linked fence, and a large bridled dog. We stared in shallow pond by the parking clouded with clusters of frog eggs. I thought of scooping some up. Hadn't I seen frogs raised in aquariums? Would that make the week more compelling?
We found an office and a ranger who kindly offered to show us around. He let my daughter throw a purple ball to the dog while he filled a cup with fish pellets.
My son became interested. He showed more enthusiasm than he had in days. His science classes have been raising Atlantic salmon for the Atlantic Salmon Federation's Fish Friends program and would soon be releasing the fish in the wild. He knew the developmental stages of fish and asked the ranger many questions. Together, they fed fish and discussed fishing and conservation. He invited my son to participate in Saturday morning's fishing derby.
It sounded like such a good idea. We needed a project, and we would throw the fish back. How hard could it be? These fish were raised on fish kibble.
The fish and game ranger suggested we make our way to Kmart to buy some PowerBait. What he didn't realize is that we would need a pole, line, hooks and any other item necessary for fishing. We were off.
At Kmart, we learned that PowerBait dough comes in a variety of colors and scents (and I assume flavors). We would have to choose from such options as: Glitter Trout Bait, pink and sparkly; Glitter Chrome-glow, a neon yellow with reflective fragments; and Garlic flavor with Christaline Glitter. I was drawn to Trout Bait Twist, because it was rainbow-swirled and I had no idea what color hungry trout prefer.
Puzzling over options, a kind stranger offered to help. He was holding a jar of sherbet color, original scent and was shopping with his wife and grown son. They said that the fish had been biting, but that soon they would be spawning and wouldn't eat a thing. They were planning on fishing that afternoon and invited us to join them. They explained the directions to the Stockbridge Bowl and said they would park their red truck where I would see it.
Here's where I get confused. Did he actually want to fish or did I run with the idea when he showed some excitement at the hatchery? It didn't matter anymore. I was determined. We followed the Kmart family to the fishing hole, and they shared their meal worms and advice freely.
My son learned to tie on a hook and cast with his new pole. He caught a few little "Pumpkin Seeds," and we left that evening chilled, smelling of PowerBait and happy.
Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com.